This summer has sure been a hot one! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted a hotter-than-usual summer and they were right. Sweltering summer days can leave you reaching for cool foods, and what could be more popular during the summer than ice cream?
Despite what many naysayers will tell you, people with diabetes CAN (and do) eat ice cream. Sure, ice cream can’t compete with, say, a salad when it comes to nutrition. That’s OK — there’s room in your eating plan to eat ice cream and other frozen treats if you so choose. But how? And what are the best ice cream choices if you have diabetes?
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What is ice cream?
Most of us know what ice cream is. It’s that cold, creamy “stuff” that is scooped out of a container into a dish or cone and enjoyed. However, there are very precise standards for defining ice cream. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that a product must meet these two criteria to be called “ice cream:”
· It must contain a minimum of 10% dairy milkfat
· It must have no more than 100% overrun and weigh no less than 4.5 lbs. per gallon
Overrun is the amount of air that is whipped into the ice cream base during freezing. A product with low overrun is more dense and heavier than a product with high overrun. Products that don’t meet these two criteria are often labeled as “frozen dairy desserts” rather than “ice cream.” There are marketing terms, too, that are applied to frozen treats, such as reduced-fat ice cream, light ice cream, low-fat ice cream, and nonfat ice cream. Obviously, the fat content is lower in these products compared with “regular” ice cream.
History of ice cream
Frozen treats are nothing new. According to the International Dairy Foods Association’s website, Alexander the Great had a hankering for snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar, as did Nero Claudius Caesar (rumor has it that he sent his minions into the mountains to gather snow which was then flavored with fruits and juices).
The Chinese are credited with creating the first ice cream, and some believe that Marco Polo brought the recipe from the Far East to Italy. From there, ice cream spread into Europe. Ice cream made its way to America in the early 1700s, thanks to European settlers. The first ice cream parlor opened in New York in 1790. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were avid fans of ice cream; it’s said that Thomas Jefferson had several ice houses that stored large amount of ice cream to help satisfy his sweet tooth.
Today, ice cream continues to top the charts in terms of popularity. Here are some fast facts of interest:
· The U.S. is the country that consumes the most ice cream.
· The website Statista states that the average per person consumption of regular ice cream in the U.S. in 2018 was 11.8 pounds (and that’s down from previous years).
· Ninety percent of American households eat ice cream.
· The most popular ice cream flavor is vanilla, followed by chocolate and then strawberry, mint chip and butter pecan.
· National Ice Cream Day is the 3rd Sunday in July, and ice cream month is July.
Ice cream nutrition
There’s no denying that ice cream doesn’t top the charts when it comes to nutrition. As delicious as ice cream is, it’s pretty much a high-calorie, fat and carbohydrate food, which is why it’s a treat. Let’s take a look at the nutrition breakdown of different “types” of ice cream:
One-half cup of regular vanilla ice cream contains:
· 136 calories
· 7 grams of fat
· 4.5 grams of saturated fat
· 16 grams of carbohydrate
· 14 grams of sugar
· 2 grams of protein
· 0.5 grams of fiber
· 53 milligrams of sodium
What about premium ice cream, which is ice cream with a lower overrun and higher fat content than regular ice cream? Häagen-Daz and Ben and Jerry’s are examples of premium ice cream.
One-half cup of vanilla Häagen-Daz ice cream contains:
· 230 calories
· 15 grams of fat
· 10 grams of saturated fat
· 19 grams of carbohydrate
· 18 grams of sugar
· 4 grams of protein
· 0 grams of fiber
· 50 milligrams of sodium
Almost 100 more calories than the regular ice cream, plus considerably more fat and saturated fat. However, the carbohydrate content is pretty much the same.
Now let’s look at a light, no-sugar-added version of vanilla ice cream.
One-half cup of light, no-sugar-added vanilla ice cream contains:
· 105 calories
· 5 grams of fat
· 3 grams of saturated fat
· 15 grams of carbohydrate
· 4 grams of sugar
· 0.5 grams of fiber
· 65 milligrams of sodium
This light version is indeed lower in calories and fat than regular and premium ice cream, but as far as carbohydrate — not so much. In fact, the carb is the same as in the regular and premium versions, even though the amount of sugar is lower. The reason: ice cream is made with milk, which naturally contains sugar (aka, carb) in the form of lactose. No-sugar-added ice cream contains non and/or low-caloric sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol, erythritol) and nonnutritive sweeteners (e.g., aspartame, acesulfame K, stevia extract). As with any “no-sugar-added” product, don’t be fooled into thinking that it is carbohydrate-free. Always read the Nutrition Facts label!
Keto ice cream
A more recent addition to the ice cream/frozen dessert world is keto-friendly ice cream. Some common brands are Halo Top, Enlightened, Rebel and Arctic Zero. These ice creams are lower in calories, somewhat lower in carbs than regular ice cream, and are claimed to fit within the context of a keto diet. Here’s a look at Halo Top ice cream:
Two-thirds of a cup of Halo Top, keto series contains:
· 130 calories
· 9 grams of fat
· 6 grams of saturated fat
· 16 grams of carbohydrate
· 2 grams of sugar
· 11 grams of sugar alcohol
· 3 grams of fiber
· 5 grams of protein
· 150 milligrams of sodium
Note that the total carb grams in this ice cream is similar to other types of ice cream. However, keto-friendly ice creams take into account the concept of “net carbs,” which are carbs that are broken down and absorbed by the body. The website Keto-Mojo, for example, defines net carbs as “the total grams of carbohydrates in any given food minus its grams of fiber and sugar alcohols.” It goes on to state that, “The sugar alcohols and fiber are subtracted because they are not digested by the body.” This definition isn’t entirely accurate, however, because some of the fiber and sugar alcohols ARE actually absorbed by the body; for example, about half of the grams of sugar alcohols are converted to glucose. Also, the FDA does not recognize and has not defined the concept of “net carbs.”
Keto-friendly ice creams also tend to contain a bevy of perhaps unfamiliar ingredients. For example, the ingredient list from Enlightened Chocolate Ice Cream includes milk protein concentrate, erythritol, non-GMO soluble corn fiber, tapioca syrup, vegetable glycerin, carob gum, guar gum, mono & diglycerides and monk fruit extract.
These ice creams can certainly be an option for you, but keeping tabs on the portion size is still important. Ignore the marketing claim that it’s OK to eat the entire pint, in other words. Calories and carbs still count! Also keep in mind that food products containing sugar alcohols can cause digestive issues, such as gas, bloating and diarrhea in some people.
Gelato is yet another “ice cream”-style option, although it’s really not ice cream. For instance, gelato is made with more milk and less cream than ice cream. Also, ice cream usually contains egg yolks, whereas gelato generally contains none. And, while ice cream must have at least 10% fat, gelato has only 5% to 7% fat and only 25% to 30% air. Gelato is also typically stored and served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, giving it a softer, silkier texture than ice cream. Nutrition-wise, how does gelato compare with ice cream?
One-half cup of gelato contains:
· 104 calories
· 1.3 grams of fat
· 1 gram of saturated fat
· 23 grams of carbohydrate
· 22 grams of sugar
· 0 grams of fiber
· 0.3 grams protein
· 20 milligrams of sodium
So, calorie- and fat-wise, gelato is lower compared with ice cream, but the total carbs are higher. If you can afford the higher carb content (for example, you adjust your mealtime insulin, you cut back on carbs elsewhere and/or you plan to do physical activity after eating gelato), then this may be an option for you.
Tips for choosing ice cream
There are so many ways to approach ice cream, including the option to avoid it altogether and go for something less likely to raise your blood sugar, such as a sugar-free Fudgsicle. But if that craving for ice cream refuses to budge, here are some suggestions to satisfy your sweet tooth without dealing with high blood sugars later on.
· Check the Nutrition Facts Label for the serving size (often 1/2 cup). Measure out the portion into a small bowl rather than eating straight from the container.
· Go for ice cream that is “cold-churned,” which is a process that gives reduced-fat ice cream a smoother, creamier texture.
· Shy away from ice cream mixed with candy or cookie dough; mix-ins add extra calories and carbs.
· Remember to count the carbs in the ice cream. A 15-gram-carb serving is equal to one carb choice, so swap out a carb food at your meal or snack for a serving of ice cream.
· If you struggle with controlling your ice cream portions, try another type of frozen treat that contains ice cream, such as an ice cream sandwich.
· Checking your blood sugar with your meter or referring to your CGM (continuous glucose monitor) 1 to 2 hours after eating ice cream can give you useful information about its effect on your glucose levels.
· Doing some form of physical activity after eating ice cream can help prevent your glucose from spiking.
Want to learn more about diabetes and ice cream? Read “Stocking Your Healthful Freezer: Frozen Treats” and “Stocking Your Healthful Freezer: Frozen Treats: Ice Cream Bars,” then try one of our diabetes-friendly ice cream recipes.